2012 in Review: Astronomy

An artist's impression of a planet orbiting a red dwarfAfter a hiatus to allow the showcasing of the January Acts & Facts (which I’m sure you’re all royally tired of by now), the ICR has returned to their 2012 retrospective series. The new article is called The Best Creation Science Updates of 2012: Space Sciences. I predict that the third and final of these articles will be posted on Friday, will be about the “life sciences,” and will include reference to the ENCODE project.

But back to here and now: Brian opens contending that,

This year brought its share of discoveries that confirm biblical creation’s contention that God made the heavens supernaturally and recently.

But before he gets to explaining these discoveries he cannot resist taking a swipe at Lawrence Krauss. Continue reading

No Outside Help

The galaxy designated NGC 1277 has been known since 1875, and is approximately 220 million light years away. Its recently-discovered claim to fame is the supermassive black hole at its centre. Such black holes are not themselves strange (every galaxy is believed to have one), and even the fact that NGC 1227’s is either the largest or second largest known is not what’s important here. Instead, the strange thing is that this particular black hole makes up about 14% of the mass of the entire galaxy – compare that to the usual figure of 0.1% for most galaxies, and 0.01% for our own. In the above video lead author Remco van den Bosch explains the discovery, or alternatively you can read this Max Planck Institute press release, the relevant page at van den Bosch’s website, Phil Plait’s article at Bad Astronomy, or the paper itself (arXiv preprint here).

Now, there is a vague correlation between the mass of a black hole and that of its host galaxy. I say vague for two reasons: first, because we haven’t measured (and can’t measure) this information for all that many galaxies as they need to be fairly close to us for our methods to work; and second, because this galaxy makes quite the exception, doesn’t it? This subject comes up because Brian Thomas’ latest article is called Massive Black Hole Disrupts Galaxy Formation Theories – which is true, actually, to a certain way of looking at it. Continue reading

No More Stars?

Molecular cloud gives creationists the fingerIt’s time to return to another of the missed DpSUs. This one, as usual, is by Brian Thomas, and is called… No, don’t close the tab – it’s not another genetics article, I swear! It’s called Study: Star Formation Is Virtually Finished – so it’s about astronomy instead. Much better.

The topic is a study that inspected the quantity of light at a certain frequency associated with star formation from galaxies at different red shifts. They determined that star formation reached its peak eleven billion years ago (for context, the universe is in the order of 13.75 billion years old), and that from current trends it looks like only a further 5% of stars than those that exist today are yet to form. A sobering thought, but one that was apparently predicted – not that Thomas will tell you that. Continue reading

Searching for the Goldilocks Planet

The first That’s a Fact video for November is called Goldilocks Planet. The theme is, for the most part, the same as was explored last weekend – while the video starts off on the subject of exoplanets it quickly finds itself in “Earth is special” territory.

Alpha Centauri Bb, an uninhabitable Earth-sized planet Continue reading

Perfectly Suited for Life (as we know it)

The universe, what is known of it, is vast beyond measure.  It is estimated that there are about 100 billion galaxies in the universe with each containing about 100 billion stars each.  Among all of those stars, one medium sized star hosts eight or nine planets, one of which we call home – Earth – a tiny speck of dust in a measureless universe.

That’s the opening of the latest post to appear on the ICR’s Your Origins Matter website, What’s So Special About our Blue Planet? The planet Earth being perfect for life – and that there is none like it in the universe – is a common creationist argument. You’d think, then, that the author of this YOM article could have done some research and not just written down what sounded about right. “Eight or nine planets” indeed – we can’t have those astronomers telling us what is and isn’t a planet now can we? Continue reading

A Directory of Randomness

I sometimes regret tethering this blog so tightly to the activities of the ICR – it means it’s harder for me to talk about what I want (not that I’m very good at that). After all, moments of hilarity and craziness are by no means limited to this one organisation. And science itself is cool too, I suppose. Anyway, here are some vaguely-relevant things I have read recently: Continue reading

Another Piece in the Puzzle

One of the cosmology news stories from earlier this month involved data from the South Pole Telescope which helped show that the period of reionisation – which is when galaxies first began to form – happened over a shorter timespan than previously thought. They found that it was complete as early as 750 million years after the big bang:

The data provide new constraints on the universe’s first era of galaxy formation, called the Epoch of Reionization. Most astronomers think that early stars came to life in massive gas clouds, generating the first galaxies. The energetic light pumped out by these stars is thought to have ionized the hydrogen gas in and around the galaxies, creating “ionization bubbles” millions of light years across that left a lasting, telltale signature in the cosmic background radiation (CMB). This relic light from the early universe is visible today everywhere in the sky and was first mapped by UC Berkeley physicist and Nobel laureate George Smoot, founder of the BCCP.

“We find that the Epoch of Reionization lasted less than 500 million years and began when the universe was at least 250 million years old,” Zahn said. “Before this measurement, scientists believed that reionization lasted 750 million years or longer, and had no evidence as to when reionization began.”

Continue reading

Impossible Binaries

It’s not often that you see young Earth creationists trumpeting a study that on the face of it would seem to show a universe even older than is currently generally accepted. But that’s exactly what Brian Thomas’ Four Sets of ‘Impossible’ Stars does:

Astronomers just found four binary star systems that should not exist if the universe is only 13.7 billion years old. These stars look twice that old to secularists, because they are rotating around one another in less than four hours. Perhaps God placed them there in order to challenge the origins myth that is espoused by evolutionary scientists.

If the ICR suddenly went belly-up I could potentially re-purpose this blog to discussing, or simply listing things “that should not exist if the universe” were only 6000 years old – that would not be hard. Continue reading

Crustal Prediction

Part of the surface of Mercury, as imaged by MESSENGER

The earlier post for the 27th has been removed. In its place is another astronomy article, Mercury’s Magnetic Crust Fulfills Creation Prediction:

The planet Mercury provides many clues to its unique and recent creation. For example, Mercury’s density and composition don’t match planetary evolution models, and its surface geology and magnetic field are too active for it to be billions of years old. New data from the MESSENGER—the spacecraft that has been probing the dense planet’s surface since 2004—confirms another creation-based prediction made in 1984.

Yes, we return once again to MESSENGER – and for perhaps the first time Thomas has remembered to give the craft its proper capitalisation. Brian has three ‘citations for his second sentence, all to articles written by him about MESSENGER findings in the second half of last year. They are:

Messenger Spacecraft Confirms: Mercury Is Unique. This article points out a number of features of Mercury, including high levels of sulphur, that are unexplained (or at least were at the time). As I said then, just because we don’t know how they came to be does not justify jumping to creationism.

Mercury’s Fading Magnetic Field Fits Creation Model. I originally concluded that, given the numbers quoted, the field of Mercury was apparently fading far too fast for the ‘creation model’ – it would require moving the creation date even closer to the now, and would be biblically impossible. However, with the help of Stuart Robbins and a copy of the paper itself, I discovered that it could not even be concluded that the field was fading. What actually happened was that far more detailed results from MESSENGER compared with that from Mariner 10 (which merely made a flyby) caused a significant reduction in estimates of the strength of Mercury’s magnetic field. This is not the same as saying that the field was noticeably stronger in the 1970’s than it is today.

Mercury’s Surface Looks Young. The presence of ‘volatiles’ were claimed by Thomas to show that Mercury is young, though in reality they probably just demonstrate that a small part of the surface is (geologically) recent.

So that’s all he’s got there. Continue reading

Young Enceladus Creationism

Thomas has conceded the point – “Thanks for catching my errors!” – and this article has vanished, to be replaced by one on Mercury. A screenshot of the original is available here.
The famous "tiger stripes" - hot fault lines on the surface, home to geysersToday’s DpSU – Saturn Moon’s Space Geyser Should Not Exist – is an example, among other things, of Brian Thomas taking a minor detail from a science news article (here, Enceladus Plume is a New Kind of Plasma Laboratory) and running off on a creationism-related tangent. His entire argument consists of these two paragraphs:

Enceladus loses “about 200 pounds of water vapor per second,” which roughly equates to three tons per year. Enceladus weighs over 100 quadrillion tons and supposedly formed billions of years ago. The plume provides an opportunity to cross-check its old-age assignment.

Assuming that the small Saturnian satellite has always issued the same amount of material at the same rate as it does today, then it would have completely unspooled itself in about 35 million years. Why is it still so active?

The full quote includes a metric value:

About 200 pounds (about 100 kilograms) of water vapor per second – about as much as an active comet – spray out from long cracks in the south polar region known as “tiger stripes.”

Now, I have three important problems with Thomas’ claim: Continue reading